- Reason in the World: Hegel’s Metaphysics and Its Philosophical Appeal by James Kreines
James Kreines’s Reason in the World offers readers—including those not already steeped in Hegelian terminology and argument—a compelling interpretation of key elements in Hegel’s Logic. It reconstructs Hegel’s arguments clearly and straightforwardly; it treats a tightly coherent group of topics; and it engages thoroughly with the most important secondary literature in German and English. But while these are all excellent qualities, its truly distinguishing contribution to recent debates in the history of philosophy is the case it makes for Kant, rather than Spinoza, as the major source of Hegel’s own metaphysics.
Kant’s pervasive influence on Hegel is of course obvious in a general sense. But in recent decades, strongly post-Kantian readings of Hegel have tended also to be non-metaphysical readings, while metaphysical readings have most often taken Hegel as some kind of Spinozist. Hence Kreines’s post-Kantian metaphysical interpretation of Hegel is a refreshing and timely intervention. Briefly, Kreines’s take on the current interpretive situation is this: all non-metaphysical interpretations hold that by convincing Hegel that metaphysics was pointless, Kant drove him to elevate epistemology (in some broad sense) to the role of prima philosophia. Put more narrowly, they hold that Hegel was persuaded by the Transcendental Dialectic but dissatisfied with the Transcendental Analytic, and that he therefore attempted to extend and transform the latter into a better remedy for reason’s ills. But the reality as Kreines sees it is different. The Transcendental Dialectic did indeed persuade Hegel of something, but it was not so much that reason gives rise to undecidable conflicts between incompatible explanatory options as that Kant’s (and most everyone else’s) basic criteria of explanatory success were deeply flawed. Thus, rather than accepting Kant’s idea of the appearances-constituting role of the subject as the solution to reason’s dialectic, Hegel’s project develops better criteria of explanation, and then meets them. Those better criteria make up a “metaphysics of reason” whose method is a systematic critique of competing modes of explanation, resulting in their subordination under a “complete explainer” (the “absolute idea”) meeting the relevant criteria. Kreines’s interpretation of the Logic, then, presents the key moves in that systematic critique, as well as an account of the absolute idea so interpreted.
In presenting Hegel’s metaphysics of reason through its critique of competing views, Kreines faces a choice—one Hegel also had to make—between reconstructing that critique in strictly historical terms, or in terms of the currently live philosophical options. In good Hegelian style, Kreines chooses both, leading to what is properly speaking a second distinguishing contribution of the book: its constant and illuminating engagement with current analytic metaphysics. Kreines navigates the challenges raised by this choice well, delivering a book that develops our understanding of the history of German Idealism not despite, but rather by, engaging Hegel in debates usually couched in very un-Hegelian terms.
I note only two hesitations. The first relates to Kreines’s conception of Hegelian metaphysics as “theoretical” philosophy. In the Idealist context, the theoretical/practical distinction is roughly that between is and ought; by classifying the Logic as theoretical [End Page 508] philosophy, then, Kreines puts distance between his interpretation and “practically” oriented interpretations focused on Hegelian normativity. But while many Hegelian arguments begin by employing this distinction, they invariably end by judging it ultimately untenable (“sublating” it). Kreines does briefly acknowledge that the Logic ends by denying that metaphysics is theoretical philosophy—that is, by affirming that problems about normativity are part and parcel of metaphysics properly construed. But this acknowledgement is hard to reconcile with his rejection of interpretations that take the Hegelian unity of the theoretical and the practical seriously. The second hesitation relates to Kreines’s conception of Hegel’s metaphysics of reason as one occupied with identifying and providing reasons. Part of the rhetorical force of this conception is that, as stated in English...